Death is a natural part of life. But, even as you’re grieving the loss of your spouse, you’ll still need to handle your financial obligations. However, that can prove to be difficult if your spouse was the breadwinner of the family.
With that said, you may be thinking of using your spouse’s credit card to supplement your day-to-day expenses. Sadly, issuers prohibit the use of a deceased person’s credit account. Even if they’re your spouse. Unless, of course, you’re the joint account holder.
However, if the account is in your spouse's name alone, issuers may deem any charges you make as fraudulent. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at how you can handle debt after the death of a spouse. Specifically, whether you’re held responsible for their debts, what you can do, and financial options you can consider.
Are You Responsible For Your Late Spouse’s Credit Card Debt?
When your spouse dies with unpaid credit card debt, their estate will usually cover it. However, if the estate cannot cover the debts, you may liable for them. Specifically, if you’re a joint holder or cosigner of the account. If you and your spouse are joint account holders, you’ll be liable for any debt. Regardless of who made the charges.
As such, you’ll want to make check the terms of the account. Particularly, in order to verify whether you’re a joint account holder, a cosigner, or an authorized user. Unlike cosigners and joint account holders, authorized users aren’t liable for a spouse’s debt.
However, you’ll be responsible for any debts your spouse makes if you live in a community property state. Even if you’re only an authorized user of the accounts. Under community property state law, one spouse’s debt is the responsibility of both spouses. Community property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Note that if you live in Alaska, spouses can choose to make their property community. If you’ve previously chosen not to abide by community property state laws, then you’re not liable for your late spouse’s debts.
What To Do After Your Spouse Dies
Generally, issuers close down accounts in positive standing when the primary account holder dies. But, if your spouse passes away with existing credit card debt, there are steps you’ll need to take. Especially, if you want to protect your credit.
- Stop using the cards. Even if you’re an authorized user, you’ll want to hold off on using your late partner’s account. Because any charges you make on an account in which you’re not the account holder constitute fraud. Credit card fraud can lead to jail time.
- Notify the card issuers of your spouse’s passing. If the account is a joint credit card account, you’ll want to notify the credit card company. Particularly, that one of the account holders is deceased. The card issuer will usually allow you the option of keeping the account open in your name.
- Inform the credit bureaus. Criminals can still use a deceased person’s name to open new accounts and commit fraud. Of course, that is if the credit bureaus are not aware of the individual’s passing. Granted, the credit card companies will report the death to the bureaus. However, to prevent anyone from committing illegal activities using your partner’s name, you’ll want to notify them yourself.
- Pay debts for which you are responsible. Your payment history is the most important factor influencing your credit score. In fact, it alone accounts for 35% of it. To that end, you’ll want to do everything you can to pay the bills for which you are responsible, on time. This includes any account you share with your spouse.
Financial Help After A Spouse’s Death
As mentioned, keeping up with your bills can be trying if your deceased partner was the primary breadwinner. Even more so if they leave you with debt you didn't know about until their passing. With that, if you're having trouble with your finances, you’ll want to seek help. Enter credit counseling.
Credit counseling can help you learn how to manage your finances and pay down debts. nonprofit credit counseling organizations typically offer their services for free or for a small fee. Nevertheless, a certified credit counselor can assist in answering your financial concerns by helping you develop a debt management plan.
It’s also worth noting that credit card companies and debt collectors cannot require you to pay your deceased spouse's debts. Especially if you're not legally liable to do so. If a credit card company or a collections agency is trying to collect from you, you can file a complaint. Specifically, with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In fact, you may report the institution harassing you to the attorney general in your state.
The Bottom Line
Credit card debt can be difficult to get away from. Especially if they suddenly appeared after the passing of your partner. And even more so if they were the primary breadwinner of your family. Fortunately, you’re only liable for their debt if you’re a joint account holder or a cosigner. Do note that if you’re either, but live in a community property state, you will be.
Yes, the passing of a spouse can be a difficult period. But, even as you’re grieving, you’ll want to make sure your credit isn’t suffering. Particularly, from inaccurate, incomplete, and fraudulent information on your credit report. Correct or remove these errors by filing a dispute. Call us at 888-799-7267 to schedule a Free Credit Consultation.
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